On May 24, 1995, five days after its official premiere in Los Angeles, Braveheart was released to theaters nationwide in the USA. The movie starred Mel Gibson as the 13th century Scottish rebel leader William Wallace. He also directed it. And, as you probably know, it was a huge success.
Today, almost everyone is aware of the famous (and oft-parodied) line Gibson shouts to his men, just before they fight the much larger English army at what is known historically as the Battle of Stirling Bridge:
“They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”
This line is part of the response Gibson gives after one nervous Scottish soldier suggests it might be better to retreat and live to fight another day. Gibson says:
“Aye, fight and you may die. Run and you’ll live — at least a while. And, dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!?! Alba gu bra!” *
If you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t seen Braveheart, you can view a clip of this scene online.
The inspiring speech Mel gives in it is fictional, but Braveheart is based on true historic events. We have men and women in the United States who echo these words daily. They fight for our freedom. They fight for others freedom and liberation from tyranny. They do it freely knowing they may die. So do. They do it for us and they do it for others.
William Wallace was a key leader of the Scottish rebellion against the English in the 13th century. And, at the bloody Battle of Stirling Bridge, fought on September 11, 1297, his outnumbered followers did indeed defeat a larger English army.
That battle and the legends that developed about Wallace inspired Scots to continue and ultimately achieve the goal of Scottish independence. Unfortunately, Wallace was caught, tortured, disemboweled and beheaded before that came to pass, as is graphically depicted in Braveheart.
History buffs have noted that some things in Braveheart stray more than a wee bit from the facts.
For example, the Lowland Scots that Wallace led didn’t wear kilts, like they do in the movie.
And, the bridge that played a major role in the Battle of Stirling Bridge — by creating a bottleneck that prevented English troops from overwhelming the Scots — was nowhere to be seen in the movie.
But somehow, as I rewatch Mel’s rousing speech on this anniversary of the release of Braveheart, those seem like nitpicks. Alba gu bra!
* In Scottish Gaelic, “Alba gu bra” means “Scotland forever!”